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Looking for Langston - Picture Palace

Looking for Langston is a 1989 British black-and-white film, directed by Isaac Julien, CBE. It is a lyrical exploration, and recreation, of the private world of poet, novelist and playwright, Langston Hughes and plays homage to him and his fellow black artists. It combines authentic archival newsreel footage of Harlem in the 1920s with scripted scenes to produce a non-linear impressionistic storyline celebrating black gay identity and desire during the artistic and cultural period known as the Harlem Renaissance in New York.


Whilst looking for photographs of men waltzing and struggling to find the right era, I came across the photo above. I followed the trail of beautiful men in black tie, dancing amongst white roses and I discovered the film. Luckily for me at the time, the film was briefly available to watch on YouTube and I couldn't take my eyes off the screen. I hadn't had much opportunity to explore Langston Hughes' poetry, so to hear his words overplayed on such beautiful imagery was hypnotic. I know I have used beautiful twice but there is no other word that does it justice. Isaac Julien has created something completely unique that at moments it is like looking into a dreamland of words and images.


Below is a short film/interview from 2017 by the Tate, Isaac Julien – ‘I’m Interested in Poetry’. Julien talks about his work and his interest in re-articulating his archive. He explores what he was trying to create with his films and how he came about choosing his topics.


The trailer is very short and only gives a ethereal glimpse of the film. DVD's can be found (I found one in Oxfam) but they are rare and often ridiculously expensive but they are out there... somewhere.



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